The Great Books group wanted to read a children’s book and this was the vote. I was surprised how many people had never read it, but of course everyone was familiar with the characters. I’ve read both Alice books many times, so it was fun to have the extra material. I believe this is what started the craze for annotated editions – Gardner’s original version came out in 1960, and the Annotated Sherlock Holmes may have been the next one (1967). It’s notable how many poems that Carroll parodied would otherwise be completely forgotten.
In this book I learned:
- Gardner’s note: “We know that Cheshire cheese was once sold in the shape of a grinning cat. One would tend to slice off the cheese at the cat’s tail end until finally only the grinning head would remain on the plate.” But this story seems to be apocryphal. Gardner says the source is Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Wikipedia gives this very book as the citation, twice, but also references Brewer’s. But the 1898 edition, which is online, has nothing like this, so it was presumably added later and might be a back-formation. And that doesn’t seem like a very practical shape for a cheese!
- “borogoves” doesn’t have an r after the g! Gardner says it’s a common mispronunciation and misspelling, even on the Alice statue in Central Park. We played there many times as children; I didn’t even remember there was text.
- Roger Lancelyn Green theorized that “Jabberwocky” was possibly a parody of “The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains.” I found the partial text and I can sort of see it! (Full text here on pp. 298-300 and 326-328 but much harder to read.) For example “The prince cried, stooping from his balcony,/In gratulating tones,/’Come to my heart, my true and gallant son!'”
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee are references to a poem about the rivalry between Handel and Bonocini
- Added to my TBR pile:
- Added to my plants-to-look-for list: scented rushes, i.e. Acorus calamus
- Brewer’s elaborates the cut (to ignore someone on purpose) as having four types:
- The cut direct is to stare an acquaintance in the face and pretend not to know him.
- The cut indirect, to look another way, and pretend not to see him.
- The cut sublime, to admire the top of some tall edifice or the clouds of heaven till the person cut has passed by.
- The cut infernal, to stoop and adjust your boots till the party has gone past.
- Drink Me “a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffee, and hot buttered toast”
- “She generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it)”
- After Alice says “till we meet again”: ‘“I shouldn’t know you again if we did meet,” Humpty Dumpty replied in a discontented tone, giving her one of his fingers to shake; “you’re so exactly like other people.”’
Mathematical physicists are quite fond of Carrollian nomenclature. A non-orientable wormhole that appears to reverse the chirality (handedness) of anything passed through it is referred to as an Alice handle, and a (hypothetical) universe that includes one is an Alice universe. A charge with magnitude but no persistently identifiable polarity is referred to as a Cheshire charge. An Alice string is a half-quantum vortex in a vector Bose-Einstein condensate. Scientists at the Institut Laue-Langevin, in Grenoble, France, recently for the first time separated a particle from one of its physical properties, creating what they called a quantum Cheshire Cat, in this case by taking a beam of neutrons and separating them from their magnetic moment. In the physics of superfluidity, a boojum is a geometric pattern on the surface of one of the phases of superfluid helium-3. In theoretical physics, the Carroll particle is a relativistic particle model in the limit of which the velocity of light becomes zero. Such a particle cannot move and was named after the Red Queen’s remark, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”